Reset iPhone for Mom?

Mom is getting hand-me-down phone. Should she get hand-me-down apps?

PIcture from an Iphone of the screen where you reset it to erase all contents
Here’s where you rest the iPhone to factory settings.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is reset necessary? My son has offered to give me his iPhone since he is getting a new one this week. His phone is two or three years old and I notice it has a lot of apps and programs on the home page. He wants to give me the phone as is, with all these apps and programs because he says they are useful and can help me. I would prefer to have none of them and just a clean screen. What do you think? Trish, Richmond

Dear Trish: What a thoughtful son and what a good idea. If the phone is just two or three years old, it should serve you well. But, whether or not you do a reset, make sure that the operating system is updated to its latest version. That will make the phone less vulnerable to hacks, and probably improve the battery life and performance. 

As for wiping out the apps your son has installed and starting afresh, I would say ‘go for it.’ That way you can find new apps that matter to you, check their security settings, and have a home screen that is personalized to your needs and interests. Imagine that you moved into someone’s house and they had a bookcase filled with records and books. You might enjoy looking through them, but they might not reflect what you prefer to be surrounded with. BTW, ‘app’ is short for application, and it refers to software that runs on your mobile device. When you ‘tap the app’, it will link you to an outside website.

Pass on the Password

The other reason I would start with a fresh restart is that many times there are passwords and user names associated with the apps and  logins. When I teach the ridehail class, I see older people frustrated by their phones because they need to know the codes that their children set up, but forgot to share. Likewise, there may be a credit card on file, say for Uber or Lyft, that is not yours. 

It isn’t clear whether this hand-me down phone is going to be billed to your own phone plan or to your son’s family plan. If the latter, you might want to look into the Apple Watch I mentioned in last week’s column. The newest version will not require you to carry your iPhone with you when you go out! But, your movements and phone log might be visible to your son!

Apps We Need in Bay Area!

But, back to the phone you are setting up. It might be a good idea, at least for a week or two , to browse the App Store every day and see the variety of apps you can download. I am linking here to a useful set of phone numbers and apps for safety and emergencies here in the Bay Area from the SF Chronicle.  (make sure to scroll down the page)

On a lighter note,  you might enjoy the games, the brain exercises, the cooking classes, or more. Other ones,  like  iHealth or Compass are baked into the phone and can’t be deleted. When you browse new apps, most of them will be free, but if you see one that costs money, you can use a pre-paid Itunes card if you don’t want to put your credit card on file.

You can find the controls to wipe your phone clean under Setting>General >Reset. You’ll note when you do this that you have to initialize the change by entering the phone’s passcode. So you are not going to enable this without having a full discussion with your son and getting his passcode for the  hand-me-down phone! Meanwhile, since you will probably be donating the phone you use today, or putting it in the sock drawer, make sure to wipe that one clean too.

Covid Tracking by Phone?

Graphic of a phone in hand and a network of individuals it can reach...the intention is to depict Covid tracking by phone.
Tracking one and many…

Dear Ms Smartphone: Should I start using my phone as a Covid detective, specifically to do Covid tracking by phone? I am not in a high risk group but I attended a busy outdoor rally the other day where people got close and did not wear face masks. Now  I am sorry that I went and I  worry that I might have exposed myself.  Would using my phone might have helped? Rafael, Stinson Beach

Dear Rafael, It’s a timely question and I hope you stay safe.  There are maps online that show hotspots, but they seem to be out of date and not granular enough to reveal specific, local exposure.  Since the ability to track Covid is baked into our smartphones we all need to learn more about it.

Historially, Covid detectors are  groups of investigators, think of them like census workers, who physically track down people  who are exposed to the virus. According to a local newspaper, the trackers compile a list of infected individuals, and then the people who came within six feet of them for at least ten minutes. Google and Apple can do this tracking for us too…but we don’t yet know if it is accurate. Here’s how….


Most of us run tracing or tracking apps throughout the day. Think of the GPS (global positioning system) that  enables turn by turn navigation or pickups for the rideshare driver. Bluetooth,  a short-range wireless radio, lets you share pictures and files or wirelessly pair music and calls to another device. The standard range is 30 feet. 

Both GPS and Bluetooth are now employed to detect Covid outbreaks, but Bluetooth is the favored method. An algorithm can ‘explore’ if your phone was in proximity to other phones (i.e. people) that concurrently, or later, developed Covid-symptoms. Without causing a public panic, the intention is that public health officials can contact you and tailor notifications.

If your phone had been Bluetooth enabled  at the event you mentioned, you might have gotten a text or email a few days later. Your risk level would depend upon both the proximity and the duration of your exposure- as well as your overall health. UCSF has announced an GPS based tracing program that has people who test positive for the Corona virus download their location histories so that they can recreate the movement data.

Is it Private and Dependable?

Bluetooth was not developed for contact tracing- and the technology gets easily confused (i.e., unreliable) by the most basic interference from windows, walls, and big open spaces. Thus, it can generate false reports for Covid, and miss the big events. The technology was pulled off the shelf because there  were no other digital tracking systems.  But now,  government agencies, from France to Singapore, have developed national tracking. However, local citizens have shunned them and there is conflict from  both Google and Apple over the  transfer of data from phones to centralized servers. 

My Bluetooth Moment

On my own phone, I  keep Bluetooth disabled, because it drains the battery, and I  don’t want to take calls when I drive. I had a classroom ephipany that made me more mindful. I was leading a class, ‘Smartphone 101’,  in the local public library, when students complained that an  older gentleman was sending personal pictures from his iphone . Both the senders and receivers had a default setting that enabled photos on Bluethooth to be “discoverable.” They didn’t know to turn it off. 

So, with a nod to mindfulness, we all  need to become more informed about the features on our phone- they are tools that can deliver good or evil. Both Google and Apple make it extremely clear that they will not use Bluetooth data to tracking Covid data unless users opt-in. However, newer iPhones  no longer require an extra step to download  a separate app. You can find more information in the links (Google) (Apple) and choose whether  to opt in or out.

Prepare Phones if Natural Disaster

“We interrupt our normal column to bring you this Emergency Broadcast…..”

When you prepare your emergency kit don’t neglect the phones. The lightning strikes that have set off fires in Northern California this week are a wake-up call. While phones and telecommunications have been a lifesaver during the Covid panedemic, their role is even more vital during a natural disaster, like a fire or earthquake. They are the fragile link to stay on top of evacuations, to dial 911, and reach contacts.

They are fragile, because if the electricity gets knocked out, many phones will not be able to send or receive messages. In the 2019 fires in California, crucial notifications went unsent, and people in disaster areas were without communications.

This year (2020) there is pending legislation (SB431) and a plan from the state Public Utilities Commission, but neither will solve the issues for this Fall.

Smartphones To Rescue?

If you have a smartphone, and most people do, there are a few steps you can take, but they will not guarantee your safety. If you have recently moved, sign up to receive emergency notifications from the local county and utilities. Then, keep the phone charged and prepare a means to recharge it on the fly, like your car, a household generator, or an inverter cable tied to an electric car battery. Some people recommended keeping a spare older phone with a solar charger in your emergency kit, just for dialing 911.

LandlineS to Rescue?

You might think it prudent to keep a landline alongside your smartphone as redundancy matters. But the danger is that, during the October, 2019 fires, landlines failed too. It turns out that ‘POTS’, Plain Old Telephone Service; i.e., the landline connected to a phone jack, depended on electrical power and used the same transmission as smartphones.

Before the Internet, telephone companies routed calls with paired copper cable, a method that required almost no external power, except at the Central Switching Station. Today, fiber optic lines have replaced many copper telephone cables, even for the landlines.

The problem is compounded because Central Switching Stations, once the bastion for safety and redundancy, now use fiber optics to link between stations. This produces yet another vulnerable communications link during electrical power outages.

Stay Informed!

Under normal, everyday conditions, fiber optics are the backbone for calling and the Internet. They out-perform copper wire because of their lightening speed, capacity, and cost. During the pandemic, telecommunications have been the lifeline that supports the ability to work from home, have classes over the Internet, and engage in Zoom meetups.

Now, when we face a crisis on two fronts, both a natural disaster and a virus pandemic, we need telecommunications more than ever, and we personally need to stay resilient and informed.